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Dublin: 6°C Saturday 8 May 2021

Ringrose bags another hat-trick as imperious Leinster roll over Saints again

Leo Cullen’s side scored seven tries against Northampton for the second week running.

Garry Ringrose scored his second hat-trick of the season for Leinster.
Garry Ringrose scored his second hat-trick of the season for Leinster.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Leinster 50

Northampton Saints 21

THE SAINTS DIDN’T so much march as tip-toe into the Aviva Stadium on Saturday evening, and with just six minutes on the clock they may as well have hopped straight back on the bus to catch the early flight home. 

By that stage the team currently top of the Gallagher Premiership were already 14-0 down, and the Leinster supporters still finding their way to their seats were daring to dream that their team might improve on the seven tries they bagged in Franklin’s Gardens a week previously. 

This 29 point win, which guarantees their place at the top of Pool 1 of the Heineken Champions Cup, takes Leinster’s perfect start to the season up to 11 straight wins, and Leo Cullen’s team don’t look like slowing down anytime soon. They were awesome in attack here, and while Northampton did not exactly fade into the night after falling behind, the game was beyond them before they ever really got going.

Leinster looked dangerous straight from the off, and shortly after Dave Kearney superbly rose to collect an aerial bomb, James Lowe was haring up the left wing. The ball was eventually turned over but Garry Ringrose was quick enough on his feet to block down an Andy Symons clearance, collect the ball and race over. 

Ross Byrne, starting in place of the injured Johnny Sexton, stepped up to kick the conversion, and Leinster were up and running.

Ringrose was over again four minutes later, but this time the score was solely down to Leinster’s brilliance with ball in hand, with Lowe and Byrne linking up beautifully down the middle before sending Ringrose through. Again, Byrne added the extras with ease. 

When clear heads were needed, Northampton captain Tom Wood was then pinged to allow Byrne push Leinster 17-0 ahead.  

Finally Northampton managed to mount an attack of their own, and after going through a couple of phases Symons did well to offload as he went to ground just shy of the Leinster line, with Biggar on hand to dot down. The Saints out-half picked himself up to kick the conversion, and the visitors finally had a foot in door.

Leinster’s response was to go on the hunt again, and when Ashee Tuala pulled Lowe’s jersey to prevent the wing collecting a return pass from Luke McGrath, referee Dan Jones had no choice but to reach for his yellow card.

Hooker James Tracy sent the resulting lineout deep, Leinster powered forward in the maul and Tadhg Furlong was on hand to finish the move.

The manic pace at which the game started failed to relent, and Northampton found themselves down to 13 men for a brief period following Tom Wood’s yellow card, with Tuala rejoining the action around three minutes later. At that stage Leinster had enjoyed 67% territory and 65% possession, and it was a case of when, not if the bonus point would arrive before half-time.

Northampton tried to find a way through but were met with a blue wall. Furlong and James Tracy combined well to take down Api Ratuniyarawa in the middle of the park, before Rhys Ruddock and Caelan Doris teamed up to rip the ball away from Matt Proctor. Leinster went back on the attack, with Ringrose playing the ball wide to Dave Kearney, whose quick feet brought him back into space before he turned on the burners to bag the bonus point. Byrne’s conversion brought his tally to five from five off the tee.

Northampton crossed for a controversial second try just before the break. Lewis Ludham’s brilliant interception of a McGrath pass deep in Northampton territory saw the powerful number eight burst forward only for an excellent recovery tackle from Robbie Henshaw to bring him to a halt. Northampton eventually moved the ball wide and while on first viewing it looked as though Cullen’s team were left uncharacteristically exposed on the wing, replays appeared to show Jamie Gibson blocking James Tracy before Ollie Sleightholme sprinted over. After a quick check Jones decided the try was good, prompting a loud chorus of boos from the stands.

tadhg-furlong Tadhg Furlong bursts forward. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Biggar’s conversation saw the sides head in for the break with the score at 31-14 in Leinster’s favour, and while nobody was anticipating a Saints comeback, it at least allowed for the promise of a bit of fight in the second half. That was not to be the case, as Leinster comfortably saw out the game.

Given the high standards set at Leinster, Cullen and his coaching team will pick faults in this performance. They will be dismayed to have let Northampton rack up 14 points in the opening half. 

They will face sterner tests when this competition resumes in the new year, but Cullen will have to be delighted with how his team are shaping up this season. Without Sexton and Jamison Gibson-Park, Byrne and McGrath linked up well, ensuring quick ball and acting decisively under pressure. 

Doris, 21, in no way looked out of his depth in the backrow, even swooping for a late try, while Jordan Larmour did enough at full-back to keep the debate surrounding Rob Kearney alive.

A Sleighbourne tackle prevented what promised to be the latest Larmour wonder-try after the magical full-back somehow weaved his way up the pitch from under his own posts. How Joe Schmidt, sitting beside Leo Varadkar in the stands, could have done with more of that in Japan. Andy Farrell, also in attendance, has some interesting decisions to ponder over Christmas. On that occasion the ball was recycled and Byrne’s neat kick-through allowed Lowe burst free to score Leinster’s fifth, despite a flailing tackle from Biggar. The conversion left Byrne with his toughest kick of the night, and resulted in his first miss.

Yet Byrne will be happy with first European start since January. The 24-year-old has often found his opportunities limited on the biggest stage with Leinster, but once again he performed well in Sexton’s absence. He was confident in possession – with Lowe’s try an example of his eye for space – and overall pulled the strings efficiently.  

luke-mcgrath-josh-van-der-flier-and-robbie-henshaw-celebrate-their-sides-third-try Leinster celebrate their their try of the evening. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Moments after setting up Lowe, he shipped a late hit from Biggar. He responded by sending one of those trademark booming cross-field efforts out towards Lowe under pressure, although Henshaw’s resulting try was crossed out by the TMO. That was to be Byrne’s last action, and he limped off as Ciarán Frawley came in for his European debut.

As had happened in Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton’s fight simmered out as the half wore on. Ringrose was soon over for his second hat-trick of the season, with Frawley kicking his first points.

A huge Ringrose tackle on Biggar then saw the ball spill loose to Kearney, who had the speed to go the length of the field, but a TMO review deemed Ringrose had tackled man before ball. 

At the other end Tuala managed to cross for Northampton with 20 minutes still to play, but the fact that not one of his teammates bothered to go congratulate him suggested that even they knew the contest had long been over. Leinster were happy to suck the life out of the game and soak up pressure, before Doris made it seven tries for the hosts. 

Cullen said the scoreline flattered Leinster in England last week, but he’ll have a tough job playing down this latest demolition job. Remember that this result came with no Sexton, no Jack Conan, no Dan Leavy. They may not have reached the eight-try mark, but it’s always good to have something to aim for.

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The blue machine rolls on, having barely picked up as much as a scratch. 

Leinster scorers:

Tries: Ringrose (3), Furlong, D Kearney, Lowe, Doris.

Conversion: R Byrne [4/5], Frawley [2/2]

Penalties: R Byrne [1/1]

Northampton scorers:

Try: Biggar, Sleightholme, Tuala 

Conversions: Biggar [3/3]

Leinster: Jordan Larmour; Dave Kearney, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw (Rob Kearney ’62), James Lowe; Ross Byrne (Ciaran Frawley 48), Luke McGrath (Jamison Gibson-Park ’61); Cian Healy (Ed Byrne 14-20, ’54), James Tracy (Bryan Byrne ’54), Tadhg Furlong (Andrew Porter ’51), Scott Fardy (captain) (Devin Toner ’69), James Ryan, Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier (Max Deegan ’61), Caelan Doris.

Northampton: Ahsee Tuala; Ollie Sleightholme, Matt Proctor, Andy Symons (Fraser Dingwall ’50), Taqele Naiyaravoro; Dan Biggar (James Grayson ’63), Connor Tupai (James Mitchell ’61); Francois van Wyk (Alex Waller ’59), Michael Van Vuuren (Sam Matavesi ’50), Paul Hill (Ehren Painter ’66), Api Ratuniyarawa, Alex Coles (Lewis Bean ’4) (JJ Tonks 73), Tom Wood (captain), Jamie Gibson, Lewis Ludlam.

Yellow cards: Tuala 21, Wood 30

Referee: Dan Jones (Wales)

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